French holidays


When I was about thirteen, we had our first of many overseas holidays. We crossed the Channel in the car ferry, and the highlight for Nigel was a Smorgasbord at which he was able to spend most of the journey. To my sorrow I did not have good sea legs, so could not enjoy these gastronomic delights.

We drove off the ferry full of excitement, expecting everything to look foreign and different. I don’t think I actually expected to see blue trees or red grass, but I was a little disappointed that everything looked much the same. But as we drove on we could see the houses had shutters on all the windows and cars were shooting past on the wrong side of the road. Still, I looked around expecting something obviously alien.

The year we went to the Cote D’Azure we broke the journey overnight, staying in a ‘Routier’ inn that catered mainly for long distance truck drivers. The whole evening was taken up by dinner, as each vegetable was served as a separate course. My parents had a carafe of the local ‘vin ordinaire’, and we children were allowed a drop diluted with water. Neither Adrian nor I liked it much and screwed up our faces at each other across the table. How times have changed! I blame the water.

Our beds were firm with rough sheets and a hard bolster for a pillow, but the wine sent us to sleep anyway. The next day our excitement rose when we reached Lyons and saw a sign that read ‘Bientot la Mediterranee’. Little did we realise it was still another four hundred and fifty kilometres to Nice. But we eventually arrived and got the beds down and spent a glorious two weeks in the sun.

On another holiday, we left the Loire valley at Orleans, bidding farewell to the statue of Jean d’Arc and heading north to Normandy. This was apple-growing country where the locals prefered to keep the doctor away by taking their daily apple in liquid form. As far back as the sixteenth century cider was distilled to make apple brandy, or calvados. Intrepid tourists that we were, we had to sample everything the area had to offer and could not resist the bouquet of ripening apples combined with the warm comfort of brandy. Traditionally a small tot of calvados was served between courses to settle the stomach and was drunk in one gulp. I sipped mine, but because there were many courses and the food was rich, the calvados complemented the Camembert, Liverot and Pont l’Eveque, so I probably had several measures.

The next morning neither my mother nor myself felt too good, but the Bayeaux Tapestry had to be visited. Before viewing the tapestry or embroidery as it actually is, a stop off at the toilet was necessary. When we entered the ‘Femmes’, we found a lady standing at the washbasin peeling hard-boiled eggs. French loos didn’t have a good reputation at the best of times, and the eggy smell just about finished us off. Whenever I see a picture of the tapestry or hear anything about the Battle of Hastings or William the conqueror, that memory is reawakened and I feel distinctly nauseous.



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